The Fabelmans (Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray)

Growing up in post-World War II era Arizona, young Sammy Fabelman aspires to become a filmmaker as he reaches adolescence, but soon discovers a shattering family secret and explores how the power of films can help him see the truth.

February 15, 2023 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

I remember seeing in an interview where Steven Spielberg said that he tended to over-sentimentalize in his films. I nodded in agreement like a trained seal. I never really could put my finger on why I didn’t consider him one of the better (and some might say the best) filmmaker of all-time. Odds are that anyone who’s a fan of film has their preferences. Scorsese? Tarantino? Allen? The list could go on and on. But I have to give credit where it’s due and I will say that for over half a century, Steven Spielberg has been one of the most successful and inspirational directors out there. He’s given us Jaws, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Saving Private Ryan and Jurassic Park. And that’s just naming a few. He’s gotten personal before, especially when it comes to his heritage. Schindler’s List was, to date, his most deeply personal experience as a director. And as time has shown us, it’s one that will likely get better with age. Now we’ve got The Fabelmans. More of the same or yet another tear-jerker?

We first meet Sammy Fabelman as a young boy. His parents, Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and Burt (Paul Dano), take him to see his first film, The Greatest Show on Earth. The experience is transformative. Before long, he is playing with an 8mm camera, staging crashes with his toy trains. Then the movie jumps ahead to his teenage years. Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle) makes elaborate Western and war movies with his friends. Artistic-minded Mitzi encourages the activity, recognizing her son’s creative mind. Burt, a science whiz working on an important advancement in computers, refuses to see it as anything more than a hobby. We follow Sammy though his journey and the various obstacles he has to overcome like the unhappiness in his parents marriage as well as his heritage.

There comes a point in everyone’s life, no matter what the profession, when you’ve succeeded. You’ve made it. There’s not a lot left to prove. Steven Spielberg crossed that bridge about 30 years ago, but he continues to make films that are both commercially satisfying as well as deeply personal. With The Fabelmans, it’s more of the latter (for obvious reasons), but it didn’t strike me as some of the typical over-sentimentalized junk that Spielberg has thrown our way over the years. That said it does feel a bit manufactured. It feels like the type of film that was made to win awards. It’s a got a great cast led by Michelle Williams and Paul Dano (yes, the awkward teen from Little Miss Sunshine is now playing roles as a father). Likely audiences know what to expect from a film like this and I’m guessing if it’s up your alley, it’ll deliver.

Video: How’s it look?

Presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the 4K image on this is nothing short of spectacular. And it gives a modest improvement over the Blu-ray (also included). Don’t get me wrong, the Blu-ray isn’t bad by any means, but if you’ve got the option – the 4K version is the way to go. The film encompasses the gamut of what’d we’d expect from a film like this. The 4K version offers a bit more detail, clarity and texture and as we’d expect, the black levels and contrast are a bit stronger thanks to the HDR. Looking at it for what it is, we’ve got a major studio with arguably the most noted director in the history of cinema – how do we think it’s going to look?

Audio: How’s it sound?

In the days of Dolby Atmos, we get a Dolby TrueHD mix. Yes, that’s right folks – no Atmos here. Still, it’s OK. A movie doesn’t need one of these atmospheric tracks to sound good. The mix is satisfyingly aggressive at spots and a bit softer than I’d have liked in others. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for the track to flex its muscle, but still – I found myself engrossed. Vocals are as we’d expect, clean, pure and rich. I’m sure fanboys are scratching their collective heads as to why there was no Atmos mix, but it’s really of no consequence.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • The Fabelmans: A Personal Journey – Spielberg and co-writer Tony Kushner discuss how they tapped into the director’s life for the story, working to give it a universal feel while still remaining true to his individual experience.
  • Family Dynamics – This 15-minute segment looks at how each actor was chosen to play someone from Spielberg’s life.
  • Crafting the World of The Fabelmans – The obligatory making-of documentary that runs 25 minutes and goes into everything from the production design to the cinematography to the music.

The Bottom Line

Say what you will about Steven Spielberg, he is a talented filmmaker. The Fablemans was, for me, good but not great. I certainly prefer his earlier work, though I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Ready Player One was one of my favorite films of the last decade. Go figure. Universal’s disc both looks and sounds good, but it’s a bit short on supplements.

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